The tension between cosmetic chemistry and the world of natural skin care sometimes seems to amount to a virtual clash of civilizations. Chemists argue that ingredients like foam stabilizers and detergents are perfectly innocent, while the herbs-and-flowers crowd vilify them as irritating or just plain dangerous. Green tea is a uniter, though: Dermatologists, consumer advocates and natural skin care experts alike sing its praises as a skin soother, antioxidant, and perhaps even a skin cancer inhibitor (this last has not yet been conclusively proved to work in humans, however). Whether it is purchased in commercial products or concocted at home, a green tea toner can improve the skin’s appearance in many instances.
What’s So Great About Green Tea in Skin Care Products?
The astounding array of skin-beneficial ingredients in a cup of green tea makes it an excellent addition to a skin care regime (note that white tea is equivalent in benefit to green, but black tea has lower concentrations of some important components). Green tea has L-Theanine in it, which provides anti-inflammatory and anti-irritant properties, and is thus a natural way to soothe red patches and make blemished skin look less inflamed. It generally causes few undesirable skin reactions, unlike chamomile, another popular natural tea toner that may cause problems for those allergic to certain plants in the daisy family.
Green tea also has 20 times the antioxidant capabilities of Vitamin E, because it contains “catechins;” a type of polyphenol. One of these (epigallocatechin-3-gallate) actually seems to prevent damage to the collagen-elastin network that supports the skin. Green tea’s polysaccarides also help keep moisture nicely trapped in the skin; but tea not in itself particularly moisturizing, so use it prior to applying a gel, cream, or lotion appropriate for your skin type. Tea can temporarily make pores look smaller by acting as a mild astringent, so oily skin plagued by blackheads and enlarged pores may respond well to green tea toners as well. It also helps shrink unsightly bags under the eyes when applied as a compress.
Perhaps it’s no wonder the Chinese once demanded only pure silver bullion or coins in trade for this stuff!
Types of Green Tea in Cosmetic Products
Green tea will often be listed on a label as Camellia oleifera leaf extract. Remember that the closer it is to the beginning of the ingredient list, the more plant extract the product actually contains. Plant chemist and herbalist Aubrey Hampton claims that powdered Matcha green tea is most effective. Other natural cosmetic lovers prefer Kyoto Karigane tea, which has a high concentration of skin soothing theanine. Organic cosmetic expert Julie Gabriel recommends adding any pure and potent green tea extract (available at most health food stores) to commercial products prior to application, including sunscreens and moisturizing creams.
Commericial Products with Green Tea
- Organic Kyoto Karigane Skincare Kits are available; they contain 50 grams of tea, plus spray applicator bottle, gauze masks, and muslin bag for use in a skin-refreshing bath. These kits are a great way to use tea not just as a toner, but as an all-over skin rejuvenator.
- Eye Bright Tea Bags are used to “de-puff” tired skin around the eyes; they contain other soothing herbs, but since chamomile tea is present in the mix, avoid if you have problems with allergies to plants in the daisy family.
- Topix Replenix Retinol Smoothing Serum with Green Tea has a good concentration of tea, and comes highly recommended by famed dermatologist Dr. Leslie Baumann.
- Pangea Organics markets a face mask with the aforementioned Matcha tea and an eye cream containing white tea, green tea’s equally effective precursor.
- Burt’s Bee Garden Tomato Toner contains green tea and several other antioxidants and skin soothers, but since it contains grain alcohol as well, it is best only for oily, non-sensitive skin.
- Paula’s Choice has several products containing green tea leaf extract, including Skin Relief Treatment (avoid if sensitive to aspirin or its derivatives), oil-absorbing Skin Balancing Carbon Mask, and the exfoliating cream called Weightless Body Treatment with 2% Beta Hydroxy Acid (avoid if sensitive to chamomile), which is marketed as a body product but I’ve had no problems using it on the face, either.
Product lines such as Teamine or RéVive also offer green tea as an ingredient, but they can be fairly pricey. So do-it-yourselfers might be a good deal happier just whipping up some at home:
DIY Green Tea Skin Care Products
These are just about the easiest homemade skin care products out there; simply prepare a cup of green tea by steeping for about 10 minutes; keep the cup covered so the steam won’t carry away any of the beneficial ingredients. Allow to cool, and pour into a dark glass bottle with the narrowest neck and opening you can locate.
Empty vanilla extract or herbal tincture bottles may be washed thoroughly, air-dried, and reused for this purpose, since they are designed to keep their contents from reacting with air and light. Keep refrigerated and discard after 2-3 days, unless you add a preservative like powdered Vitamin C (which can irritate skin); even then, I’d definitely recommend throwing it out after a week.
After cleansing, apply as a skin toner with tissue or cotton ball. Add to small amounts of used coffee grounds and a bit of grated carrot for an antioxidant-loaded, cellulite-appearance-minimizing body scrub. Saturate strips of gauze or cloth with tea for a relaxing facial; oily skin types may wish to add a few teaspoons of it to a bentonite clay mask instead.
Unless sensitive/allergic to aspirin or related compounds, dissolve an aspirin tablet in the tea and apply to blemishes with a cotton swab. Inflammation and swelling usually diminish considerably. Don’t use over broken or abraded skin, though.
Mix with 1 ounce of your favorite skin care oil, such as grapeseed, almond, or olive (do not use essential oils, which often irritate the skin around the eyes), and a half-ounce of vegetable glycerin. Use to remove your makeup. Shake well before each application, as this product will continually separate.
So head to the cosmetics counter or grocery store, and start reaping the myriad advantages of green tea. No matter what your skin type or problem, some experimentation will probably yield positive results with consistent use; but keep in mind that persistent, serious skin problems always require a visit to the dermatologist in lieu of home remedies.